Vintage Charts…how to use them.

3BrunellosMany of us believe that the best wine is the highest rated wine…not necessarily true..

WS_VintageChartWhat do vintage charts mean and how to use them…

Hold (cellar)This wine is not really ready to drink. It will probably be very tannic and require some aging. If you do want to drink it now you should open it up and decant it (pour it into a larger container and swirl it around) then wait a few hours before serving it. This helps the wine soften and open up.

Drinkno explanation needed here.

Drink/Hold– Gets a little more complicated. Whether it will drink well right now depends on the producer, where the grapes were grown and what the weather conditions were like that year.

A real world example using a Wine Spectator vintage chart (app) for one of the greats- Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany, Italy.

2010ScoponeLooking at the chart for the highest rated wine, would indicate that you should buy the 2010. 2010 produced some amazing wines and they are well priced BUT they really aren’t ready (see Hold above). If you want to hold this wine for 5-10 years this would be a great purchase.



2004IlPatrizieFor a splurge and drinking now, the next highest rated would be 2004. This is what you want! 2004 was an excellent vintage for this wine and they are perfect right now. They may be a little difficult to find and a little pricey, but the search is worth it.



2005CortePavoneFor value drinking you will need to stay away from the top rated vintages. A good strategy is to look at wines that fall in between 2 great vintages. 2005 was between the high rated vintages of 2004 and 2006. This is what the wine pros buy because they are more readily available and the best buy.


Please share your favorite Vintage tips

WTF…aged Chardonnay from…China?

2004Grace_Chardonnay_China A good friend brought me a Chardonnay from China.

The 2004 Grace Chardonnay was provided in a beautiful box, but not being able to find out much about the wine I had no idea if it would be a decent (drinkable) wine or not.

Most wine professionals know very little about Chinese wines so I put the wine away and waited for the right time to open it with some other wine drinkers.


Chardonnay_lineupI am a member of a tasting group full of non industry wine aficionados. These folks KNOW wine. When it was my turn to host I put this wine (now 11 years old) in a blind tasting with some other Chardonnays from around the world that were much younger


This was not a very fair comparison. The other wines that were served were around 10 years younger and were fresh and vibrant.

The Chinese Chardonnay had a funky, oxidized nose but this eventually dissipated and the wine was actually very interesting. Some thought it was a Chenin Blanc, others a late harvest wine, but all were amazed that a Chinese wine displayed this amount of complexity after 10 years in the bottle.

Will keep an eye on wines from China as they are ramping up to become a grape growing powerhouse…

Here is some more information about the winery and wines of China:

Wall Street Journal article on Chinese wines

Distributor website

Winery website (if you read Chinese)

100% Italian!

While studying for my Italian Wine Professional Certification I put together a list of the known Italian Denominations that are required by law to use 100% of a grape in the wine.

Most wines, around the world, are blended wines so if you want a true expression of any of these Italian grapes look for these Denominations (in bold) on the label:

Piemonte (Piedmont)


Barbaresco DOCG (100% Nebbiolo)

Barolo DOCG (100% Nebbiolo)

Diano d’Alba DOCG (100% Dolcetto)

Dogliani DOCG (100% Dolcetto)

Dolcetto di Ovada Superiore/Ovada DOCG (100% Dolcetto)

Dolcetto d’Alba DOC (100% Dolcetto)

Dolcetto d’Asti DOC (100% Dolcetto)

Dolcetto d’Aqcui DOC (100% Dolcetto)

Nizza DOCG (100% Barbera)


Asti DOCG (100% Moscato)

Erbaluce di Caluso / Caluso DOCG (100% Erbaluce)

Gavi (di Gavi) DOCG (100% Cortese)


Toscana (Tuscany)


Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (100% Sangiovese)

Rosso di Montalcino DOC (100% Sangiovese)




Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG (100% Aglianico)

Aglianico del Vulture DOC (100% Aglianico)




Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG (100% Primitivo)




Sagrantino Montefalco DOCG (100% Sagrantino)



White (dessert/sparkling)

Recioto di Gambellara DOCG (100% Garganega)





Lower alcohol Cali Cab? Been there Dunn that…

2004Dunn_front 2004Dunn_HowellSorry for the cheesy article title, I couldn’t resist. Many of my wine aficionado friends have an affinity for top tier (cult) California Chardonnay and Cabernet.

California cult wines are usually very tannic upon release, heavily oaked, and highly extracted (they are a mouthful). The term coined for this type of wine is “cocktail cabernet”.

I tend to prefer European wines as they are generally higher in acid and lower in sugar (alcohol), therefore pairing better with food.

One alternative to the standard California Cabernet “recipe” is Dunn Vineyards.

Although Dunn wines can be very tannic on release, they purposely keep the alcohol low in their wines. They are so adamant about their wines being below 14% that they often “dealcoholize their wine.

There are two main ways to reduce the amount of alcohol in a finished wine:

1. Add water (secretly known as Jesus units).

2. Use technology (like reverse osmosis).

There is some debate as to whether this produces “better” wines. Father and son certainly disagree. Many believe that this conviction has cost Dunn Vineyards favorable reviews from wine critics.

I was fortunate enough to sample a 2004 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from Imperial (Imperial=Quadruple Magnum or 8 bottles of wine). A limited release- only 100 of these were produced (see the bottom of the bottle above). This wine was dealcoholized when it came in at around 14.3 percent.

But, is it good…now?

After 10+ years it is still primary and “hot”.  If I didn’t know it was held to 14% alcohol I would swear it was 15%+. Ripe Dark fruit, vanilla and still some apparent oak. It changed/evolved in the glass which is a sign of a great wine.

Yes, it is very good but will keep getting better. Try and hold off on drinking this wine. If you can’t wait- decant it for a few hours…or a few days…seriously.

redwine_invisalignWarning: BIG red wine will stain invisalign.

For more related reading…

Introducing…WTF wines

Dogliani1Assuming you know what WTF stands for…

I consider WTF wines to be wines that:

• contain an obscure (less common) wine grape… and/or

• are produced in an unusual region…and/or

• are created with an unorthodox method

Most importantly, when you look at the bottle containing a WTF wine it is extremely difficult to determine what is actually in the bottle OR if you will like it.

Because I am not afraid to try new things I will highlight these wines but only my recommend ones. I will give you some solid information about them and hopefully you will find something NEW and delicious.

Dogliani2My first WTF wine has a simple label that tells the average consumer very little. This wine is made from 100% Dolcetto grapes from Piedmont Italy. It doesn’t say either anywhere, on the front or back label, so you will have to trust me. Dogliani is the region and it is has achieved the top quality level (DOCG). The laws from this region insist that the wine is made from 100% Dolcetto. Oddly enough, Dolcetto means “little sweet” in Italian but Dolcetto is usually used for dry (not sweet) wines. Although Nebbiolo (Barolo/Barberesco) and Barbera (d’Asti/d’Alba) are probably better known, outside of Italy, Dolcetto is a very popular, “goes with anything” wine for Italians. And it is enjoyable young so you can drink Dolcetto while your Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s are aging for the next 10-20 years.

If you can’t find this wine try another 100% Dolcetto from these denominations:

Dogliani DOCG

Dolcetto d’Acqui

Diano d’Alba DOCG

Ovada DOCG

More to come…


Summer wine pairing

pesto_roseOne of my favorite (easy) fresh summer appetizers is Basil Cream Cheese pesto with tomatoes.

The fancy version involves making an “X” shape in the end of a cherry tomato and stuffing the tomato with the pesto filling.

I prefer to spread it on grilled bread and top with chopped fresh garden tomatoes to make bruschetta.

Pesto_ingredientsHere is my version of this summer favorite:

8-12 basil leaves (around 2 cups)

2 or 3 cloves garlic (depending on size)

1/4 c. pine nuts (toasted preferably)

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

6 oz. low fat cream cheese (or Neuchâtel preferably)

1/2 c. Olive Oil

Pulse all solid ingredients together in a food processor while drizzling olive oil into the mixture. Blend until smooth.

Brush fresh bread with olive oil and grill or broil.

Spread pesto mix onto bread, top with chopped tomatoes and extra cheese if desired.

Enjoy with a low-tannin light red, or rosé wine.

IRDC_LaSpinettaMy wine pairing suggestion is a pink Sangiovese like this one. Il Rosé di Casanova- La Spinetta. Around $15.

Loire Valley Blind Tasting

blindtastingbagsBlind tasting is a method of tasting wines when you cover, or bag, the wines to see if you can identify them. Blind tasting is a key component of many wine certifications.

Single blind is when you can see the wine being poured into your glass. You know whether it is white, red, rosé, and whether it is still or sparkling from the appearance. Also, you know something about the wine (the region, the grape or the vintage) but you can’t see the bottle label.

Double blind is when you don’t know anything about the wine other than the appearance (white, red, rosé, still or sparkling).
BlindglassesTriple or Fully blind tastings use black glasses so you don’t know anything about the wine. For wine professionals, who think they know a few things about wine, this is a truly humbling experience as it is much more difficult than you would think.

There are many different styles of wines and most wines are a blend, of more than one grape, so it is not as easy as identifying apple juice from orange juice.

Recently I attended a Loire Valley blind tasting with some wine friends (Elizabeth Miller, CSS, CSW, Margot Redmond, Gawain de Leeuw, CSW) to test our knowledge about wines from this region.

At most blind tastings I am about average identifying the wine but since I have been to the Loire Valley I hoped that I would do better than 50% (coin toss).

The wines…

Flight 1- Identify a white wine vs. red wine.

1. 2014 Coteaux du Vendomois Blanc Lieu-Dit Cocagne – Chenin Blanc

2. 2012 Pensees de Pallus Chinon– Cabernet Franc

These wines have very different (distinct) aromas so this one was easy.

Results: Everyone guessed correctly.

Flight 2- Loire Valley Whites- only Sauvignon (Blanc) or Chenin Blanc- which wine is which grape?

1. Domain Curot Sancerre– Sauvignon Blanc

2. Dame de Jacques Coeur Menetou-Salon- Sauvignon Blanc

3. 2014 Domaine de La Coche Sauvignon

4. 2011 Les Choisilles Montlouis Sur Loire– Chenin Blanc

Results: Misidentified #2 as Chenin Blanc but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. I’ll take that.

 Flight 3- 2 Loire Valley Reds- only Cabernet Franc- could we identify the region?

1. 2010 Domaine Durand Les Coteaux Saint-Joseph (100% Syrah from the Rhone)

2. 2014 Domaine Des Deux Arcs Anjou-Cabernet Franc

3. (Bonus wine) Coulee de Serrant- Chenin Blanc- this premiere wine from Biodynamic proponent Nicholas Joly is barrel aged (most Chenin is not) so this one was very different. It would have been interesting to have this in the white wine lineup as one of the tasters thought it was an aged Chardonnay.

TastingNotesResults: Margot threw us a curve ball and inserted a wine that didn’t belong (Syrah from the Rhone valley). Although I didn’t specifically guess that there had been an imposter I wrote “Black olive, white pepper” and kept shaking my head and comparing the two wines because they were SO different.

I give myself partial credit for this one.

Flight 4- Loire Valley Reds- only Cabernet Franc- could we identify the region?

1. 2012 Pensees de Pallus Chinon- Cabernet Franc

2. 2014 Domaine Des Deux Arcs Anjou-Cabernet Franc

3. 2010 Samur Champigny “Millesime”

We had already sampled 2 of these earlier but having a complete lineup clearly demonstrates how a single varietal (Cabernet Franc) wine changes when it is from different regions. I could certainly taste the difference…but I guessed none correctly. 

Blind tasting is a fun thing to do with friends/family and is an excellent “game” for paying close attention to what is in the glass to learn about wines. If you don’t do well, don’t feel bad most wine professionals aren’t that great either.

Tips for setting up your own blind tasting from Wine Folly.